Switzerland’s new ‘air-scrubbing’ plant sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere

A company in Switzerland recently unveiled the world’s first commercial so-called “air-scrubbing” plant designed to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide. At the 2015 Paris climate conference, 195 countries adopted the legally binding global climate deal aimed at limiting the rise in temperature to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and air-scrubbing technologies are pivotal to this overall objective.

The first of its kind direct air capture (DAC) unit utilizes 18 Climeworks carbon dioxide collectors on top of a waste utilization plant, KEZO, to filter CO2 from the atmosphere. This concentrated CO2 is then supplied to a greenhouse — located just a quarter mile down the road — where it is used as fertilizer to grow tomatoes and cucumbers. The DAC itself is powered by low-grade waste heat generated by the KEZO complex.

Over the course of a year, the facility can filter an estimated 900 tonnes of CO2 or the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gases created by nearly 200 passenger vehicles, according to Bloomberg. As part of the “scrubbing” process, CO2 is deposited on the surface of a series of filters. Once each is fully saturated, the CO2 is then isolated where it can then be sold to markets ranging from the energy sector to the automotive industry. While this DAC facility may have a rather limited capacity at its current scale, Climeworks has much loftier objectives moving forward.

“It’s our ambition to capture one percent of global CO2 emissions in 2025,” Climeworks co-Chief Executive Officer and founder Jan Wurzbacher told Bloomberg.

Right now, the company can manufacture about 150 air capture units per year and Climeworks hopes partnerships like the one underway at the KEZO facility will foster further growth and commercialization in the years to come. Climeworks plans to use this pioneering project to start pilot programs in other markets and potentially implement an underground storage component to the process.